Flygskam

A friend of mine loves to travel, but vows never to fly anywhere ever again. This is not because of a fear of flying or a desire to avoid the dreaded TSA indignities, but because of the carbon footprint it leaves on the planet. According to this article in the Seattle Times, one roundtrip flight from Seattle to Rome emits the same amount of carbon per person as 9 months of driving in the average American car.

I’ll be the first to admit that this is a horrifying statistic. I struggle with this concept every day. In Sweden the term for this type of flight shame is “flygskam”.

While I admire my friend’s commitment to the planet, I have mixed emotions about how small her world has become. In this era when nationalism is on the rise, bringing with it an increase in hate crimes, we need to broaden our horizons, not shrink them.

Perhaps if Trump had studied abroad in Mexico as I did, he wouldn’t have said, that “they’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

I genuinely believe that it’s a great deal harder to demonize people when you’ve broken bread with them. I have no desire to wall a child off from safety when I’ve held one just like her in my arms. And I can’t close my mind and pretend that my way of living is the only right way since I’ve witnessed so many other people living differently and thriving in their own ways. I also truly believe that when I travel to other countries, I am helping those economies, and I am also acting as an ambassador to demonstrate that some Americans are good people, too. I think travel is essential.

So what to do to mitigate this flygskam?

In that same Seattle Times article, it mentions that Rick Steves is donating a million dollars a year to groups that help people who are negatively impacted by drought and famine. This will sort of offset the carbon footprint of the large number of people who fly with his tour groups to Europe each year. It’s a start.

But Should You Buy Carbon Offsets? That link suggests that this type of financial salve on your environmental guilt is akin to paying people to do the right thing so you don’t have to. Well, as with all things regarding this issue, it’s not quite that black and white. If you find a legitimate carbon offset, then you’re actually paying someone to do the right thing who couldn’t or wouldn’t have done so in the first place. That, to me, is a good thing. Because of this, I vow to pay 50 dollars in carbon offsets for every roundtrip international flight I take, and 25 dollars for every domestic one. But I can’t stop there.

The best way to reduce your carbon footprint in this world is to do it yourself. I’m committed to recycling, composting, threadcycling, getting energy efficient appliances, turning off lights, reducing my heating and cooling, buying locally, and eating less meat. I’m building a bug house. I’ve got a bat house. I’m also looking into wind turbines. The state of Washington is on the forefront of green burials, so I will have one when the time comes.

I also think that corporate travel needs to be drastically reduced. In this age of video conferencing and virtual reality, there’s no reason for the vast majority of it. And telecommuting needs to be considered for more jobs.

I think carbon neutral perfection is unobtainable. I have feet. I’m going to leave a footprint. But if I can do something, I will, and I must.

Takeoff

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Kakapo

What do you get when you cross a parrot with an owl? A kakapo!

Well, not really. But this ground-dwelling, nocturnal, flightless parrot does have an owl-like face. Due to its preference to be active at night, its eyes have migrated to the front of its face, and there is a dish-like ring of feathers around each eye that gives me the impression that it’s mildly surprised. If this parrot were to speak, I’d expect it to say, “What the hell?”

I didn’t even know these birds existed until a friend told me about them. There’s a good reason for that. Highly endangered, there are less than 150 left in the world. They only live on a few very remote, uninhabited islands of New Zealand.

They used to thrive throughout that country, so much so that the Maori used to hunt them for food and used their feathers to make capes. Then the Europeans came along, bringing with them cats, rats, and ferrets, and these birds didn’t stand a chance.

They are now closely monitored by conservationists, who, according to this video, are now doing a DNA map of all the birds in order to avoid inbreeding in this tiny population. There’s also another hilarious video of one Kakapo, named Sirocco, who is so imprinted on humans that he attempted, on camera, to mate with a man’s head. This video became so popular that it prompted Prime Minister John Key to name Sirocco the official spokesbird for conservation in 2010. (That’s Sirocco’s picture, below.)

You can help support the conservation of these birds by going over to New Zealand’s Department of Conservation page to adopt a kakapo. You’ll get a cute plushie which makes a great gift!

These birds need your help now more than ever. On April 18, 2019, it was discovered that some of them have been hit with a fungal infection called aspergillosis. Since then, 17 have been diagnosed with this disease, and in two short months, 7 have died. This is a scary number in such a small population, so if you can support these beautiful creatures, please, please do.

Sirocco the Kakapo

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Trees Can Die of a Heart Attack

Added to my list entitled “I Never Thought of That” is this poster, below. I saw it at a ranger station while traveling through Oregon, and thought it was a message worth spreading.

P_20190528_140213

Carving your initials into a tree seems so romantic. Young love, immortalized. B.A. + C.L. with a heart around it. People will gaze upon it and know your love is true, right?

Unfortunately, removing the bark from a tree can reduce its ability to transport needed nutrients throughout its system. It can introduce pathogens and invasive insects. It causes the tree to divert precious energy toward wound repair. At the very least, it results in ugly scar tissue.

It also will encourage others to take part in the same kind of vandalism, thus increasing the damage. Because people are, let’s face it, stupid. And they sure do love to leave their marks, even if it means destroying that which was already beautiful.

So, please, if you want to immortalize your love, how about planting a tree instead of causing scar tissue and potential death? Now there’s an idea…

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Russian Shenanigans

Well, you have to admire the Russians for thinking outside of the box. Their creative meddling with our elections has saddled us with the most divisive and destructive president in our nation’s history, in the form of bozo the clown. Who could have predicted that? They must be laughing over their borscht.

But now they’re employing marine mammals to do their dirty work. According to this article in Newsweek, there’s a beluga whale wearing a black harness that says “equipment of St. Petersburg”, that is harassing Norwegian fishing vessels. Practicing for… what?

The article goes on to say that the Russians have been training seals and dolphins, too, for decades. This really crisps my bacon. It’s one thing to manipulate us due to our own stupidity, paranoia, and wrong-headed convictions including but not limited to racism and sexism. It’s quite another to enslave intelligent creatures to do your dirty work.

Belugas should be above politics. This is messed up on so many levels. That government will stop at nothing. Next, they’ll be strapping grenades onto puppies and drop kicking them over our soon to be constructed, any day now, I swear to God, Wall on the Southern border.

Spasibo, Putin.

Beluga whale

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A Wicked Sense

When I was young, I used to delight in friends who had wicked senses of humor. I liked to hear them poke fun at others, or be capable of the kind of snappy, sarcastic retorts that have always eluded me. It was fun to sit with them on a mountain of mockery and quietly witness these friends cutting down all comers. It felt powerfully entertaining.

I wasn’t mature enough to realize that their behavior was just mean. I didn’t realize that what I thought of as a rapier wit and a superior intelligence was actually a lot of misplaced anger and the hallmark of being a bully. I also didn’t understand that by being a silent and amused witness, I was being a bully, too, or at the very least, propping one up.

If it’s any comfort, though, I did draw the line at physical bullying. Even I had the sense to know that was intolerable. Physical intimidation is so blatantly wrong that even my clueless young mind couldn’t overlook it.

And I learned my lesson about the sarcasm the hard way. Because there’s one thing you are bound to find out sooner or later: If you have a “friend” who is cruel to everyone but you, even if it is tinged with humor, eventually their wrath will turn in your direction as well. Count on it. I guarantee it.

Now I get that words can hurt as much as physical assault. And I know that if I stand by and do nothing while it’s happening, then I’m complicit. Now, I can’t abide bullies in any form. Now, I surround myself with respectful, loving people. But it took me a minute to get there, to my everlasting shame.

Bullying

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“Low Expectations Are the Secret to Success”

A friend of mine said that to me recently. It was a joke. Of course it was a joke. But in every good joke lies a kernel of truth.

Yeah, if you set the bar low enough, you’re bound to be able to get over it. If all you want from life is a hovel with a mattress, a travel radius of less than 50 miles, a minimum wage job that doesn’t challenge you, and a spouse that challenges you even less, then the odds are quite good that you’ll succeed.

And that is a form of success, I suppose, if you are happy. If you are content and have no regrets, then you are right up there at the summit of humanity. Congratulations.

But maybe we should stop focusing so much on succeeding. Humans seem to be obsessed with the concept. No one wants to be a loser.

I think, though, that epic fails are highly indicative of people who are trying the hardest. People who take risks are usually the ones who care the most. Sticking your neck out means you have a much better view of an expanded horizon. It also means you’ve learned. Oh, how you’ve learned.

I’m not suggesting that you should set the bar so high that you’ll never have a chance. We can’t all be king of the world. But stretch yourself. Dream bigger than you think you can or should. Take chances. Have adventures. Live.

mountain climbing

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Hope for the Planet

I just watched an amazing TED Talk thanks to this Wired article. It has given me more hope that we can turn climate change around than anything I’ve read up to this point. Seriously. I feel like I can finally exhale.

Thanks to plant biologist Joanne Chory and her team, there is a possibility that we can dig ourselves out of this very dark and suffocating hole that we have placed ourselves in. And while the solution takes a great deal of expertise, it’s actually rather easy to understand. Here’s my condensed version.

  • Humans have put too much CO2 in the atmosphere, which is causing global climate change. (If you haven’t come to accept that fact, there’s really no point in reading the rest of this.)

  • Plants take in CO2 and release oxygen, but they’re currently unable to keep up with our pace.

  • But this team has come up with a way to modify plants so they’ll take in more CO2.

  • Suberin is a waxy substance that some roots have that allows them to take in more CO2.

  • This team has figured out a way to genetically modify plants so that they’ll produce more suberin, and also produce more roots and deeper roots, without having a negative impact on crop yields.

  • At the end of a plant cycle, unfortunately, a lot of plants rot, which causes them to release the CO2 back into the atmosphere. That’s why the root depth is so important. If we can get roots to go deeper, they’ll hold the CO2 longer, and rather than release into the air, the carbon will go into the soil, making it much more fertile for the next crop. (Soil depletion has been causing reduced crop yields for years, even as our population increases, so this is an amazing side benefit.)

  • This enriched soil also has the ability to retain moisture.

  • This team believes they are within 10 years of creating wheat, corn and rice crops that will have all these enhanced traits. How exciting. How amazing.

I see only two downsides to this endeavor:

  1. People are terrified of GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms.) That has a lot to do with this trend toward a fear of science in general, and it’s a pity. I genuinely do not think that all GMOs are bad. In fact, genetic modification occurs in nature all the time. Nothing that you eat now is genetically identical to what was going on in nature a thousand years or more ago. So calling this stuff “Frankenfood” is inaccurate at best. (This article from WebMD backs me up on this.) But if people refuse to buy these products, then farmers will refuse to plant them, and all this amazing research will be for naught. There’s a solution in our future, folks. Let’s not torpedo it with our ignorance.

  2. Dr. Chory, the team leader, is experiencing increasing symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. So she is in a race against time to get this research completed. I hope that her team could carry on without her, but I think her knowledge and experience and leadership is greatly needed, so I hope she’s able to beat the clock, for the sake of the planet.

Despite the hurdles, I finally feel like I can take a breath, because I know there are thousands of other scientists out there who are also running this race and coming up with answers. If we are going to be saved, it’s the scientists who will do the saving. There are also plenty of us who care about the environment enough to make sacrifices and also push for green energy solutions.

So take heart, dear reader. Take heart. All is not yet lost.

Hope for the Planet

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